Over the course of his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell won 11 championships. He was an All-Star every year but his rookie season, won league MVP five times, and his rebounding numbers during the 1960s were something out of a video game. Russell changed the game, so it was only right that he became the first African-American player to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Except, Russell refused to accept his Hall of Fame induction, and at the time offered no explanation other than telling The New York Times, "for my own personal reasons, which I don't want to discuss, I don't want to be a part of it. I'm not going. They know that. I've felt this way for many years."
Now, four decades later, not only has Russell accepted his Hall of Fame ring, but he also provided an explanation as to why it took so long.
On his Twitter account, Russell tweeted that he was finally accepting his ring. Joined by close friends, which included Hall of Famer Bill Walton and Vice President of the Phoenix Suns Ann Meyers Drysdale, Russell posted photos of the ceremony and gave his reasoning for denying it for so long.
In a private ceremony w/my wife & close friends A.Mourning @AnnMeyers @billwalton & others I accepted my #HOF ring. In ‘75 I refused being the 1st black player to go into the @Hoophall I felt others before me should have that honor. Good to see progress; ChuckCooperHOF19 @NBA pic.twitter.com/2FI5U7ThTg— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) November 15, 2019
Russell said he "refused being the first black player to go into the Hall of Fame," and felt "others before me should have that honor." The 11-time champion then when on to show support for Chuck Cooper who was only just recently enshrined in the Hall of Fame in September.
Cooper, was the first African-American player drafted into the NBA in 1950, and while he didn't have near the accolades that Russell had, climbing that mountain to become the first black player in the NBA is no small feat. It's players like Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton and Earl Lloyd who Russell believed should've had the honor of becoming the first African-American basketball players enshrined in the Hall of Fame before him. Lloyd and Clifton were finally enshrined in 2003 and 2014 respectively, but it's insane that it took this long to honor Cooper.
While it took far too long to recognize Cooper, at least now he'll be forever enshrined next to Russell, who after 44 years, has finally accepted his greatness.